My name is Brendan McGeown and at 14 years old, I was diagnosed with Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Until that point in my life, I lived a healthy and active life, playing hockey from the age of 4 and never being sick with anything worse than a typical cold, or the flu. I was halfway through my freshman year in High School when I began feeling sick. With symptoms such as a fever, headache, and fatigue, my family and I thought I was just sick with a cold or the flu. After being sick for about a week and not getting any better, I went to visit my doctor and got the news on Friday the 13th of February, 2009.
I can easily remember being taken back into the exam room and my doctor doing the normal evaluation, taking by blood pressure, listening to my heart and lungs, looking in my ears, nose and throat, and examining my body. After she finished, she excused herself from the room, only to return with about 4 other doctors. After they all had their chance to examine me, I was sent across the street for blood testing and then sent home where we would receive a call with results. Around dinnertime that night, the phone rang. My mom answered the phone and spoke with the doctor who insisted I go to the ER immediately. Upon arrival to the emergency room, I was taken straight back and given a room. Shortly after getting settled into the room, my doctor, who I had seen earlier that day, came into the room and told me what was going on and that I had Cancer.
Being only 14 years old, I remember not really thinking too much of it. I recall one of my initial thoughts being, “when will I be able to go back to school.” Over the course of that night, the emergency room performed many additional tests, including even more blood tests. Sometime that night, I was taken over to CHOC (Children’s Hospital of Orange County) just across the street. Being relatively older for ALL, being a male, and having a very high cancerous white blood cell count all put me in the high-risk category. I was taken into the OICU (Oncology Intensive Care Unit) where I stayed for about 2 weeks.
The next day, February 14, I began treatment, and would continue receiving chemotherapy, frequent bone marrow biopsies and lumbar punctures, and blood transfusions for about the following three weeks before I could be discharged. Because of my weakened immune system, I had to be taken out of school for the remainder of freshman year and all of sophomore year. I was placed on “Home and Hospital” schooling, where I was able to keep up with my classes with the assistance of a teacher coming to my house twice a week when I wasn’t in the hospital. By the start of my junior year, I was in the maintenance phase of treatment and able to go back to school. During this time I was only getting monthly treatment and my counts were able to slowly rise. I was able to finish off the last two years of High School and treatment without much incident, except for a couple wonky results from lumbar punctures, which kept the doctors watching closely and continuing to check my cerebral spinal fluid.
After graduating in May 2012, a follow up LP would confirm the unimaginable. July 23, 2012, I met with my case coordinator and doctor where I was informed I had a relapse in the CNS. Once again, I was told I would go through two and a half years of treatment, only this time the treatment would be much more intense than before, including cranial radiation.
During one of the cycles of High Dose Cytarabine (Ara-C), I was overtaken by a series of opportunistic infections of my eyes, my port, blood, lungs, and my leg. Because of my weekend immune system (ANC @ 0), treating these infections proved to be troublesome and the infection in my leg grew worse day by day, keeping me in the hospital three months, and the ICU for about two of those months. The infection (Pseudomonas) caused my calf to just about double in size, turning purple, and to this day be the most painful thing I have ever experienced. A surgery was eventually needed to drain the infection and I had to go through physical therapy to regain the strength and motions to walk again, after three months without being able to. The one thing that I took away from that as a positive was all hospital stays after that felt a lot shorter and a lot easier.
After that incident, I was able to finish the remaining two years of treatment without much incident, besides a couple cases of Shingles. In the Spring of 2014, I was able to go back to College while undergoing maintenance treatment once again.
With treatment moving along and the end of 2014 nearing, I began feeling pain in my left hip. After mentioning it to my doctors, an MRI was ordered which showed what looked to be Avascular Necrosis (death of bone tissue) of my left femoral head. Many, many, tests and appointments with various Orthopedic doctors would end up confirming that I did have Avascular Necrosis of my both my left and right femoral heads, and my left femoral head had collapsed. This all came as a result of my treatment for Leukemia, particularly the steroids.
One thing I had realized throughout treatment was my high pain tolerance. Well, in this case it worked against my favor because had I complained about the pain earlier there might have been alternative methods of treatment available for my left hip, but as a result of the collapsed head, I would need a total hip replacement. It was decided, because of my young age, that I would put off the replacement as long as I could until I couldn’t handle the pain any longer. And, in the meantime, I would have a core decompression (drilling holes to try and stimulate blood-flow and new tissue growth) of my right hip to try and stop or slow the necrosis.
After finishing treatment in January 2015, I pushed through the year only having the core decompression done, which was mentioned earlier, and battling through the pain of my left hip. Come 2016, I had made the decision that over my summer break from college, I would have my total hip replacement since the pain was at a point where it was interfering with my daily activities and walking.
Today it is November 24, 2016, Thanksgiving day to be exact, and I couldn’t be thankful enough for everyone who has ever played a part in my care, from doctors, nurses, friends and family. It is because of everyone’s help that I am sitting here and have made a full recovery from my hip surgery, I am in remission (almost 2 years), working hard in school to become a future nurse, and just began volunteering at the same hospital that saved me from Cancer. It seems as if all these hurdles set me up for a different path in life. One that I can argue is better. But, also, one that I know has more meaning.